It’s time for some gender equality

The process of appointing a new director for the Rabbinic Court is an opportunity to enable women to compete for this position.

Shas (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
Shas (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
In the coming months the minister of justice will be appointing a new director of the rabbinical courts. This position will, in all probability, not be staffed by a woman. This is not because of a lack of qualified women, but because of legal restrictions, since the candidate must be an authorized dayan (rabbinic judge) or city rabbi.
In this way, Israeli law blocks the candidacy of talented and capable women who have been dealing for years with the issues of personal status in general, and in the functioning of the courts in particular. There are women who know the system well and can release it from its failed functioning, and treat – even partially – its many ills.
The basic “progressive” laws of the State of Israel – Freedom of Occupation and Human Dignity and Liberty – that are the basis for the values of equality in almost every public sphere, do not apply to the issue of personal status that constitutes the main source of gender discrimination. The Supreme Court which recognizes gender equality as a protected value, through the interpretation of the basic law of ‘human dignity and freedom,’ is prevented from dealing with the laws of marriage and divorce.
The rabbinical courts are being defended, through this basic legislation and equal rights law for women, thereby protecting and resisting their obligations to apply an authentic element of gender equality.
BUT THE legislature isn’t satisfied with just implementing the halacha of inequality regarding marriage and divorce, and not even in preventing women from serving as dayaniot (rabbinic court judges) and holding official religious positions. It even surpasses itself by preventing women from serving in administrative positions that accompany judicial tasks in religious institutions.
A study of the lists of judicial and administrative positions in the rabbinical courts reinforces our concerns: We did not find among the positions even one woman who served in a judicial or senior administrative position. Throughout the decades of existence of these courts, there has been direct discrimination regarding the employment of women.
The notorious glass ceiling that at times arouses false hope because of its deceptive transparency, changes the rabbinical courts into an official reinforced fortified wall which reflects harsh and outrageous discrimination.
The time has come for renewed investigation of the legislative regulations in the area of personal status and in relation to the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It’s time to clarify the extent to which these regulations reflect the principles, purpose and character of the state, and if the discrimination hidden in them violates a tolerable boundary.
The process of appointing a new director for the Rabbinic Court, after 20 years, is an opportunity to take action by enabling women to compete for this position. This will be another step in the direction of integrating women into the system of public service positions.
This demand gains validity in light of the inequality and prejudice built into the rabbinic courts system: in the gender homogeneousness of those who hold senior positions; in the inequality of couple’s relationships, and in the lack of a practical solution in the rabbinical courts for the acute problem of women who are agunot (anchored in marriage) and mesoravot get (denied receiving a divorce).
A bill that will enable the appointment of women for the position of director of the rabbinic courts, which has been written under the initiative of the Na’amat and Mavoi Satum organizations, will be submitted to the Knesset this week by MKs Orit Zuaretz and Marina Solodkin from Kadima.
The writer is director of the Mavoi Satum organization for women denied a divorce.